What did I learn from that? A Pavlovian response might be “I touched the cookies and my hand got smacked” … lesson, don’t touch the cookies. If only it were always so easy in life. But the pains of life become more severe as life grows more and more intricate and complicated. There are enough Pavlovian lessons to go around, speeding tickets, unpaid taxes, broken relationships – divorce. Life’s lessons as such are hard when dealing with emotional and financial outcomes. Emotional/streess based moments are rarely forgotten being ingrained in the don’t touch the cookie moments. If only life’s lessons were taught in the classroom with less calamity. Funtional life skills have all but disappeared in education, replaced with a focus on cookie cutter uniformity of academics (as if we are all the same).
Educators working with pedagogical methods focus on the three principal modes (and combination thereof) of: kinesthetic, verbal, and visual. Is learning different than an education? “Learning Is Different Than Education” by Terry Heick suggests that:
Learning is different than education. One can be self-directed but supported; the other is led and caused. One is driven by curiosity and the joy of discovery; the other is metered and measured, and a matter of endless policy and mechanization.
I would submit that there is a blending of these two comparable ideas within the scheme of acquired knowledge, but even these two descriptions fail to entirely address “how” we learn or acquire an education where there is understanding and not just some wrote memorization. Wrote memorization is in many respects a collection of inert facts if there is no ability to apply the information in some useful way. Knowing yeast is an ingredient in yeast rolls, while meaningful information does little unless the baker understands yeast is what makes the rolls rise. So understanding the nature of yeast and how it is affected by temperature is understanding a deeper meaning yet still. Each increment of fact as it is applied is understood to cause some sort of change which in turn makes the information useful.
“Training versus Learning: Changing the Paradigm of Educator Development” by examines the manner in which educators themselves are educated or acquire knowledge and their ability to communicate it in a pathway. Equipping teachers is a matter of competency in the subject matter, how a teacher, as a student, acquires the level of competency is just as important for their student; the process of learning is likewise probably a matter of discourse when the deeper meaning is the goal. After all, truly know the subject is of far greater value than merely regurgitating facts (as is all too often the case in today’s classroom of government mandated testing and metrics). A teacher can have all the pieces and parts of the necessary knowledge, the books, tools and examples, but unless it is orchestrated in such a way as to challenge a student to deeper meaning they might as well be prepared to make mental soup.
“If I invite friends to my house for dinner I will go to the grocery store and buy several ingredients. I will pick up vegetables, meats, and spices, along with several other items. Then, I will bring these items home and lay them out on my kitchen counter. Even if I buy the best of ingredients, I still am not ready for my guests. To get that meal ready requires the skills of a chef; skills that require an understanding of what ingredients go together, and how to adapt the use of those ingredients to produce a masterpiece of a meal. This is what it takes to be a great teacher. While we can supply teachers with all of the greatest of curricular materials, supplies and equipment, it still requires that the teacher knows how to be a chef in the classroom to create a masterpiece for his or her students.”
Carol Ann Tomlinson NCREL Annual Conference, March 11, 2004
While the Socratic method of questioning is an interesting approach and it has its place in learning, knowing more than how to question and explain, seeking functional answers is what we are after. Remember Socrates was sentenced to death for his relentless questioning. Instructors of a body of knowledge need to be well versed in their chosen topic of interest. Being a topic of interest there is a self motivation to have understanding not just memorization. The Feynman Technique is one such method that seeks to foster a deeper understanding. “If you want to under something well, explain it.” It is a circular process of refinement and detail which can inherently be frustrating should the user lack the ability to assimilate that greater detail in being able to explain it to not only themselves but to some else as well.
Enter the ideas of “modeling by discourse”. Most are somewhat familiar with the Socratic method of modeling, the process of questioning and answering in such a way to promote understanding, which is being augmented by a new radical method, modeling by discourse. Modeling discourse is a more recent development method promoted by Arizona State University backed research. An eight element comparison of Socratic and Discourse modeling is discussed in a paper entitled “Facilitating Discourse in the Physics Classroom” by Jim Schmitt and Mark Lattery, and includes quotes from “modelers”. The core learning principles behind the discourse method is the elimination of preconceptions, the establishment of competence through a deep factual knowledge and understanding of ideas within a contextual framework that promotes retention and extension for application. This happens by using a “meta-cognitive” instructional approach with students learning to take control of their own education by defining goals, with instructors monitoring their progress, guiding them in achieving them.
“How” we learn can take many forms, controlling the “how” with the “why” makes thing interesting. I think everyone would agree there are multiple “whys”. Fundamental, instinctual survival based learning for the preservation of life on one end of the spectrum to curiosity on the opposing end. Generating curiosity and excitement about discovery and understanding within the framework of modeling discourse was the method I chose in part because it works for me as a life long learner.